For the gaming industry, 2020 will be an excellent year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the routine of many video game studios, including those that managed to adapt quickly and launch several titles in time for Christmas, as was the case with Ubisoft and Electronic Arts; others saw their projects derail, to be postponed, completely changing their launch schedule. But all the publishers that managed to fulfill their planning saw their games earn unprecedented numbers, making this entertainment medium the most sought after during isolation.
Video game sales soared in 2020
COVID-19 generated a sales boom, which many publishers took advantage of, such as Electronic Arts, which, in the words of the studio leader, was very good for the company. “The pandemic only accelerated what the future was going to bring us, be it the way people come together and share experiences, overcoming fear of the disease,” he said during his intervention at the Web Summit.
And those shares were even taken to the letter through games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, one of the great hits of the year, published by Nintendo, which for many served as escapism to the pandemic. In the first three months of the year alone, Nintendo managed to sell 3.29 million Switch consoles. The company’s positive results are largely related to the popularity of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which had more than 11.77 million copies sold in that period. By the end of November it more than doubled, having totaled 26 million copies. And this even before Christmas, leading to the forecast that the game will beat the record for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which sold 29 million copies, as Nintendo’s best-selling game ever.
The industry grew, according to IDC data, 20% this year, reaching $ 179.7 billion. Alone, it exceeded the combined revenue of the international film industry in 2019, of about $ 100 billion, with that of sport in the United States, which expects to reach $ 75 billion this year. Yes, cinema data is from 2019 because in 2020 it practically stagnated, with movie theaters almost always closed, forcing the industry to look for new forms of revenue, such as launching their films on streaming services. Hollywood was thus one of the great victims of the pandemic, contrasting with the success in gaming.
And when we talk about the meteoric sales of video games, we’re not just talking about PC platforms and consoles. The numbers of apps and games for smartphones are astronomical, and just look at the first nine months of the year, the App Store recorded revenues of US $ 51.8 billion and in the Play Store 27.6 billion, according to compiled data Sensor Tower, Statista and StatCounter consultants.
But when it comes to games, the Apple store earned $ 12.5 billion and the Play Store $ 8.5 billion, leveraged by games like Honor of Kings and PUBG Mobile, with growth of 65% and 28% in compared to the same period of the previous year. These are surprising numbers, but even more so when only a single “franchise” manages to take a large share of the market for you: Activision with the Call of Duty series, generated in the last 12 months more than 3 billion dollars in all its products and services. The smartphone version of Call of Duty is among the most played titles on Apple equipment.
Gaming events canceled and revamped
Due to the pandemic, all over the world, practically all the events that gather crowds have been canceled, be it in terms of music shows, sporting events, and of course, the great conferences and events of the various industries. In the area of video games, E3, which was scheduled for June, was at an impasse in the middle of the pandemic, trying until the last to see if the pandemic situation resolved and ended up being canceled, with no alternative for exhibitors and visitors. ESA still promised a digital version, but ended up giving up on the promise of reimbursement to those involved.
And it was a lost opportunity for the organization to reinvent itself, since, for some years now, it has been considered to be dying, with a growing dropout from the big players: Nintendo stopped making conferences several years ago, even though it has a physical presence at the event; and Sony would mark the second consecutive year outside the event, even in the year of presentation of a new console.
On the other hand, the Game Developers Conference was able to adapt and streamed the various conferences in digital format during the month of March. Gamescom also failed to evade isolation measures in Germany, which affected the number of visitors, and ended up canceling the physical event, but promised an online broadcast with great news. It was a weekend full of broadcasts with announcements of new titles, which allowed gaming fans to go behind the scenes of the industry.
In events parallel to the main competitions, Microsoft held the Xbox Games Showcase to show exclusive games for its platforms, including the first worldwide showcase of Halo Infinite, in a gameplay. Unfortunately, it did not convince fans and the press, prompting the Redmond giant to react and take its jewel off the crown from the initial lineup of titles on the new Xbox Series X | S. The game is now rescheduled to be released sometime on Christmas 2021.
The advent of cloud gaming
2020 was a great year for Microsoft when it comes to gaming investment. First, it made one of the biggest acquisitions in the industry in recent years, when it bought ZeniMax Media for $ 7.5 billion. In the package, she introduced Bethesda Softworks to the technology giant’s family of studios, and as a consequence, some of the main series on the market: DOOM, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, among many others.
Second, the official launch of its xCloud cloud gaming system in Portugal. The system is compatible with all Xbox architecture and it is possible to play with the installed base of more than 100 million users on the network. In early August, Microsoft had explained that, for example, when the highly anticipated Halo Infinite is released, players will be able to play between generations and between different devices on the same servers, whether on the console, PC or smartphone.
But Microsoft’s service did not arrive alone. Google Stadia, which was launched last year in some test territories, has expanded this year to several countries, including Portugal. Unlike other services, Stadia assumes itself as a platform and marketplace for games. In other words, it is mainly aimed at players who do not have a console or a PC with the ability to run the latest video games, not to be left out, accessing the latest titles on the market through a simple internet browser or smartphone app. Who would have thought it possible to play Cyberpunk 2077 or Assassin’s Creed Valhalla with the same quality as a high-end PC or new generation console?
Cloud gaming seems to be taking its first steps, anticipating the massification of 5G that will be good for this market. And not wanting to miss out on this advent, Amazon has officially unveiled its Luna service, in a subscription service in two formats, a basic one for $ 5.99 and another for $ 14.99 that includes the Ubisoft + catalog. Little is known about the service itself, because it is limited to the United States during testing, but bets on a controller with the integrated Alexa virtual assistant, as well as a technology called Cloud Direct, promising a reduction in latency during game sessions.
Sony and Microsoft launch new consoles in limited quantities
Despite the excellent games that were released during 2020, all attention was obviously focused on the new generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft. Perhaps because they were launched simultaneously, in the month of November, there was always great secrecy around them, with the information reaching droppers. Mark Cerny, the PS5 engineer, took advantage of the GDC to reveal its technical details, such as the special SSD, but without saying much more about the console, even though Sony “sold” the event as the reveal of it.
We had to wait until June to finally get to know the design of the PlayStation 5, after the presentation of its special controller, DualSense. And the new controller is really the main star of the new PlayStation generation, which is marked by the existence of an entirely digital model, for less than 100 euros. DualSense offers a new gaming experience thanks to its adaptive triggers, built-in microphone and a very appealing design, similar to the console.
Its interface has also been redesigned, offering a more intuitive browsing experience for games and apps, and it includes the PlayStation Store, instead of being a separate application, as before.
When PlayStation 5 hit stores in a phased manner, first in the United States and a week later to the rest of the world, it was already known that Sony would have great difficulties in having stock for everyone. The problems generated on the production lines throughout the year, due to COVID-19, together with chaotic pre-production, according to boss Jim Ryan, limited the number of consoles for sale. This lack of stock triggered the parallel market for “used” consoles, with an estimated 60,000 units sold globally by “scalpers” at almost twice the price. Despite promises to replenish stock for Christmas, many experts point to normalization of sales in March next year.
Microsoft had exactly a path taken on Sony chemical paper, with respect to timings, in the launch of two versions of Xbox, the Series X and Series S (the latter officially revealed later, but with rumors of its existence with photos dating from early 2019). The differences in the consoles, in addition to the absence of the disc player in the cheaper version, also their hardware is more modest, in contrast to the “most powerful console on the market”, the Series X. Both consoles were the target of funny memes by community, comparing them to refrigerators and radios with cassettes.
Both consoles, from Sony and Microsoft, also stand out for being backwards compatible with the previous generation. This means that players who choose to purchase the platforms have access to around 1,000 Xbox titles and 4,000 on PlayStation.
The video game industry ended 2020 with a flourish, with the next year coming back to normal for publishers, event organizations and component manufacturing. And above all, a maturation of the catalogs of the new consoles, a growth in cloud gaming services. And of course, news from Nintendo. Will there be a reveal of Switch’s successor?